'Mayor's Walk' set for May 9

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Cumberland Times-News, April 30, 2012

Kristin Harty Barkley


Cumberland tries to widen lead in health challenge

CUMBERLAND — May is “Healthy Community Month” in Cumberland.

So say Mayor Brian Grim and members of Cumberland City Council, who issued a proclamation last week, encouraging citizens to be active and develop “healthy living habits.”

For individuals, the payoff can be huge.

“Consistent exercise can strengthen our immune systems, lower the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes, lower the risk of heart disease, and lead to a more positive and happier outlook,”?the proclamation states.

For the city, the payoff could be a top prize of $2,000.

So far, Cumberland is leading the pack of four local communities that are participating in Western Maryland Health System’s Community Health Challenge, said Nancy Forlifer, the hospital’s director of community health and wellness. Other communities participating are Westernport, Lonaconing and Piedmont, W.Va.

“Cumberland is the most active at the moment,”?Forlifer said. “They’ve had walking and exercise programs. They’ve sent out information on an e-mail list of participants. ... They’ve done bulletin boards, shared stories.”

Next week, Grim hopes to broaden the city’s lead by hosting a “Mayor’s Walk” downtown. All residents — not just those who signed up for the challenge — are invited to participate.

The walk is scheduled for 6 p.m. on May 9 starting at the pedestrian mall downtown.

“I haven’t chosen a route yet, but it’s going to include the downtown Cumberland mall and the area surrounding it,” Grim said. “Our hope is that we can get as many citizens as possible to join us.”

In the four communities, a total of around 125 people signed up to participate in the challenge — not as many as organizers had hoped, Forlifer said. She visited government leaders in close to a dozen local communities last winter to try to get them involved.

“We’re hoping maybe after we give out the trophy and $2,000 to the town that wins that will encourage more towns to participate next year,” Forlifer said.

In January, participants registered by getting weighed, having their blood pressure taken and answering two baseline questions:

1. How many fruit and vegetable servings do you eat each day?

2. How much physical activity do you get?

In June, those same assessments will be made again and the community with the team that loses the most weight and makes the greatest number of other healthy lifestyle changes wins.

Teams earn points by hosting programs and making policy changes that promote healthy living, such as the city’s recent “Healthy Community Month” proclamation.

Allegany County consistently ranks at the bottom of the state for healthy living, including obesity and smoking rates. Data collected for the 2011 County Health Rankings shows that three out of four Allegany County residents aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables, and the percentage of obese adults here has increased by 5 percent in the last four years.

“The only way we’re ever going to be able to make a change is to get everybody engaged in it,” Forlifer said. “It’s going to take government officials, it’s going to take schools, it’s going to take everybody.”

Contact Kristin Harty Barkley at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .